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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 42
5/1/06 Mark Olson and Gary Louris, The Troubadour, Los Angeles. The singer/songwriting team that formed the nucleus of The Jayhawks (Olson left the band around 1995) has reunited for a few sporadic dates. St. Louis wasn’t on their limited tour schedule, but the legendary Troubadour club in LA was. It’s an intimate club, about the size of The Duck Room with a high ceiling and a small balcony up above.
While taking advantage of this show not available in St. Louis, I was simultaneously reminded of all of the things I like about my home town. Tonight I drove almost an hour each way, paid $7 to park and (obviously) didn’t know a single person in the room. In fact, the only words I said to anyone all night were, "Can I get a Heineken?" and "Thanks"…makes me appreciate being part of a smaller community with lots of familiar faces around.
I was front and center, about twenty feet straight back from the stage as MO and GL came out with acoustic guitars and parked themselves on stools in front of around two hundred people. I don’t hold it against him, but Olson is looking worse for wear than Mr. Louris; tonight he was sporting a sweater vest and looking kinda like Harry Chapin. The exact song order is a bit of a blur, but I think they opened with "Nothing Left To Borrow". Song selection pretty much focused on the Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass albums. I’m a big fan of what these guys have done over the years; at their best, their plaintive lyrics and heartfelt harmonies could hit the spot that Gram Parsons hit way back when. At times the harmonies soared and hit that spot and at others never got off of the ground. Yeah, the hardcore fans were out in force, singing along and hanging on every line, but certain songs left me flat.
Instrumental interplay was nice enough- at times, Louris’ cleanly picked acoustic leads felt natural; at other times his leads were run through synthesized effects, like an acoustic cousin of that wah-wah thing. I liked the latter less. Olson mostly stuck to rhythm guitar, with occasional picking patterns. In the heyday of The Jayhawks, Olson played a shaky harmonica…this time around, those duties are handled by Louris. Frankly, he’s better at it.
Being a big fan, I was able to remember a good number of tonight’s setlist: "Seen Him On The Street", "Over My Shoulder" (a personal highlight), "I’d Run Away", "Ms. Williams’ Guitar", "Sister Cry", "Waitin’ For The Sun", "Two Hearts", "Pray For Me" and "Ann Jane" (the line "beans and jello I made them by myself" remind me of that Saturday night skit about the songwriter going off about buying "brocollocalee…brocollacali"). Gary sang "Save It For A Rainy Day", a poppier song from the post-Olson Jayhawks. The set ended on a high note- "Two Angels" typifies that sparse, cryptic lyrical thing they do…the words don’t rhyme and the exact meaning is less than clear, but a spell is cast, nonetheless.
They opened the encore with a song each from their post-breakup days ("December’s Child" from Olson and "Tailspin" from Louris) before moving on to "Crowded In The Wings", another spellbinding confessional. They saved their big hit for last- from the unmistakable guitar intro on, "Blue" had the crowd locked in and into it. It was slightly disappointing that they no longer attempt to reach that trademark high note on the word "blue", opting instead to cut things short…I’m guessing that Louris has a hard time reaching that note these days. Not disappointing was the song itself- the heartfelt lyrical delivery and that cool, compelling countersong thing, where Olson sings "all my life I stayed around…" while Louris sticks to the chorus.
5/13/06 City Squirrel, Mokabee’s. An atypical act at an atypical venue- a coffee bar (no alcohol) on the south side. This husband/wife duo was set up at the top of the stairs along a narrow balcony. A handful of us sat at a couple tables right next to the "stage" while the rest of the "crowd" of familiar faces sat on the stairs or across on the opposite side of this L-shaped mezzanine. Jim Staicoff was notably enthused, judging from his zealous applause after each song.
Instrumentation varied; Stephan alternated between piano and acoustic guitar while Stephanie switched from violin to viola to keyboards (which conveyed a mood similar to the sustained tone of her violin, complementing Stephan’s piano). In guitar/viola mode, they reminded me of Jason and Allison (that male/female guitar/cello duo from the early nineties). Stephan’s voice reminded me quite a bit of the quieter moments of Matt Keating; this comparison hit me repeatedly throughout. There was a playful, but tuneful bounce in certain songs; I was thinking "The Beatles" right as Toby said something about Sergeant Pepper. Since I’m totally unfamiliar with their material, I’m not gonna come up with song titles…one that stood out was called "Branch". I didn’t recognize them, but they apparently covered The Move, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and our buddy Steve Carosello (something about "sorry it didn’t work out"). Stephanie sang lead on one near the end.
Toby hosted a really fun after-party for the band and most of the audience. I hadn’t intended to stay for long, but the next thing I knew it was 3:30 AM…latest I’ve been out since the closing of Frederick’s.
5/20/06 Steve Dawson, House Concert. When I saw Steve and band last March, I liked it OK, but the subtle, gentle vibe they evoke was at odds with the generally rowdier festival atmosphere of SXSW. Tonight’s house concert (around 50 people) was the perfect setting for what they do. Cozy atmosphere and instrumentation: SD on guitar and smooth white soul vocals, his wife Diane on backing vocals and tambourine (and goofy between-song jokes), Jason 1 on electric bass and stand-up bass (sometimes bowed) and Jason 2 on vibraphone and a spare drum kit.
I had always thought of Steve’s music as something akin to Paul Carrack-style pop, but a few times tonight, I got the feeling I was hearing a jazz band: ethereal vibes, bubbling basslines, shuffling snare and glowing guitar…makes sense since these guys are Steve’s co-workers at Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart. On one song, Jason 2 was able to transition from playing vibes with his left hand and high-hat with a drumstick in his right, to making his way behind the drum kit with a pair of sticks without missing a beat. Since Steve has only one solo album out, he did almost every song on it; "Friend Like A Wheel" and "Sweet Is The Anchor" stood out.
They also did "The Dumbest Magnets" from the Dolly Varden (Steve’s ongoing pop band) album of the same name, as well as a silly original that might be called "Blow On Your Arm". They did one that sounded like a Van Morrison cover; it turns out it was "Madame George" from Astral Weeks. They opened their encore with the George Jones song, "Here We Are", Diane handling the Emmylou Harris parts…this one was dedicated to the newly engaged John and Marie. "Let’s Get It On" sounded like it could have segued into the dance remix of Elvis Costello’s "Every Day I Write The Book". Having obligations in Chicago on Sunday, they miraculously made the long drive north after the show, arriving back home just before sunrise.
5/25/06 Bobby Bare, Jr. The Duck Room. Maybe 120 people on hand on a Thursday night…he had essentially the same band he brought to this stage a few Twangfests ago: keyboards, drums (turned sideways to face the keyboard guy), lead guitar and Deanna Varagona on baritone sax (at times recalling Morphine). BBJ has a distinctive, raspy, risk-taking vocal delivery. Lately, he’s taken to punctuating his phrasing by making a "pop" sound from his mouth at key points.
They ran through a few new songs, but what really stood out were the tried and true catchy "hits": "Flat Chested Girl From Maynardville" (I like the melody better than the words), "Valentine" (great little rhythmic stutter step in this one) and the ever-catchy "I’ll Be Around" (just once, I’d like to hear this with an actual trumpet ala The Replacements’ "Can’t Hardly Wait" or Clem Snide’s "Happy Birthday" instead of that vocal "badada"). They also covered The Pixies’ "Where Is My Mind?" as well as giving abbreviated teases of The Eagles’ "One Of These Nights" and dad’s "Detroit City". Bobby made an appeal from the stage for lodging for the band…I was relieved to hear they were covered. It was fun to hang out and catch up with Fred and Kathleen after the show.